Heorot (Mead Hall) in Beowulf

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  • 0:01 What Is Heorot?
  • 0:59 The Mead Hall's…
  • 1:53 What Is Really Under Attack?
  • 2:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson details the importance of Heorot, the mead hall in the epic poem, 'Beowulf.' We'll go over Grendel's attack on the mead hall and the cultural impact of the hall itself. Complete the lesson, then test yourself with the quiz!

What Is Heorot?

Everyone has a place where they love to go to hang out with friends. Maybe it's a place of worship, a restaurant, or even just a particular bench at the park. It's where they feel safe, secure, and welcome to be themselves. For the Danes in Beowulf, that's the role of Heorot, their mead hall. The Old English epic poem was written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries and is set in Scandinavia, where mead halls truly did exist. In the poem, when Grendel attacks Heorot, he's not only attacking the people within; he's attacking an entire way of life.

Readers of Beowulf may get the idea that Heorot was just some random castle. There are some problems with that, though. First, if you're thinking of a stone castle, you're a few hundred years too early. This mead hall would have been built of timber. However, it is still the house of the great local lord, so there is some amount of pomp and circumstance going on. That said, when Grendel attacks Heorot, he's not just attacking the equivalent of city hall, but instead the very soul of the community.

The Mead Hall's Cultural Importance

The idea of a mead hall wasn't invented for Beowulf, but was based on actual buildings that existed around that time. Mead halls revolved around the central ideas of socialization and community. These were not a bunch of softies living in Dark Ages Denmark, but warriors toughened by barbaric enemies. They wore the furs of animals they killed themselves, and everyone had an incredible amount of respect for their fellows. That said, the mead hall was where they could unwind. They could kick back, relax, have some roast meat, and enjoy what was perhaps too many glasses of mead with people they liked and respected.

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